Can team GB’s Olympic cycling success change the UK’s cycling culture and raise its pitifully low rates of cycling? Team GB has had a huge degree of Olympic cycling success which makes me proud, but can this success lead to more important change?
As the government goes back (in England) on its previous pledges on tackling obesity this question is being asked about most sports at the grass routes level. However cycling is not most sports. Its like walking, an alternative means of getting around (so is running but most people don’t run to work). Cycling is both a means of cutting fossil fuel dependency and increasing fitness whilst building exercise naturally into your day, if you commute by bike. I would argue a high level of cycling makes for a more civilized society. There is also some evidence that cycle use cuts obesity rates (see the graph on page 805 in this paper) and driving raises them (also in the paper’s text looking at Chinese data)*. Currently only 4% of UK journeys are by bike, its 43% in the Netherlands. Whilst cycle use in the UK is rising fast it is from a very low level. The London Olympics raised sports participation before 2012 in anticipation but since 2012 the level has fallen although its higher overall than before 2012. It definitely difficult to get people to take part in sports particularly cycling where there is perceived to be danger aspect (the irony is the more people who cycle the safer it is). It requires joined up thinking with better cycle facilities as well as encouragement not just just Olympic super heroes, although this is a start. The question is with austerity cutting sport facilities and groups and no joined up thinking on cycling in the UK will we get a cycling boost?
* most people think that exercise only helps to keep weight off not loose it. If you do the maths on what you eat and what it takes to burn it off, this is logical.